This December, we are proud to support organizations working on hunger relief in our local community, as well as nationally. Feeding America operates a network of 200 food banks in the United States and FOOD For Lane County works with more than 150 agencies in and around Eugene, Ore., where our company is headquartered. Not only will we provide a financial contribution to help further these two organizations’ efforts this holiday season, but you can look for more content this month about the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food security in cities across the United States.

We were delighted to speak with Sarah Reiter, community and donor engagement coordinator at FOOD for Lane County, about what we might not know about hunger, the challenges local food banks are facing this year, and how you can get involved in your own community. 

Good Clean Love: Tell us a bit about your organization and your mission. What motivates you to do this work? What inspires you to show up every day?

Sarah Reiter: FOOD for Lane County is a private, nonprofit food bank dedicated to reducing hunger by engaging our community to create access to food. FFLC solicits, collects, rescues, grows, prepares and packages food for distribution to a network of social service agencies and programs, and through public awareness, education and community advocacy. Making food available to those in need in Lane County is at the core of FFLC’s commitment to serve.

I am motivated to do this work because I see the need in our community every day. Hunger isn’t obvious in most cases because you can’t tell someone is hungry just by looking at them. My inspiration for coming to work every day is knowing that our community is willing to come together to help their neighbors who are experiencing hunger.

GCL: What exactly is food insecurity and what might not everyone know about this issue?

SR: Food insecurity happens when someone is unable to reliably access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Meaning, that they don’t have access to food often enough to feel full or eat enough to be nutritionally healthy. Hunger is much more prevalent in our community than most people realize.

More than one in three Lane County residents (41%) is eligible for emergency food assistance. In Lane County, 53% of school-aged children are eligible for free and reduced priced meals, which is an indicator of poverty.

GCL: We’ve seen in the news that the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing economic hardships, which means more families are experiencing food insecurity than ever before. How has 2020 impacted the people you serve as well as your organization?

SR: The COVID-19 pandemic still has a lot of folx in our community out of work or on furlough. Even months after the shutdown in the spring we are hearing that people are still on unemployment. Our organization is focused on getting food to the people who need it and are still actively distributing food through our pantries and partner agencies..

GCL: In addition to distributing food, FOOD for Lane County also offer a wide variety of services. How are these an important component of increasing access to food?

SR: Our programs are important for increasing access to food because they help us reach different types of people in the community. The Dining Room is a free restaurant for our neighbors that serves a lot of folx who are unhoused or living in extreme poverty. Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers nutritious, fresh meals to house-bound seniors. Our free Nutrition Education Classes help folx learn how to cook healthy meals, which means they access different kinds of food.

All of these groups need different kinds of access, because not all people need help in the same way. We try to make sure we are helping people where they need it instead of asking folx to go out of their way to get help from us.

GCL: How can our readers help support and advocate for access to food in their own communities?

SR: Your readers can do this in a number of ways.

  • Food and monetary donations to your local food bank or pantry is the easiest way to help.
  • Reach out to local organizations to volunteer or take part in a community event.
  • Engage with local elected officials to see how they are advocating for people in your community.

I like to remind people that community impact starts at home. Make sure to check in with local organizations to see how you can support their mission and help your neighbors.